Better Conversations with a Parent who has Dementia / Alzheimer’s

conversationdemWhen people first meet me, they would describe me somewhere between quiet and aloof. I’m not sure if this is just part of my personality profile or became part of me because we moved around so much when I was younger that I learned my best friends developed with time. I have found in the work setting, listening to the discussion and saving up my voice until the end served me well.I share this because this blog and the ease at with which I share what’s happening in my life is very different from the woman you would meet in person.

However, I’m realizing that in general, I am very talkative and approachable on the subject of caring for a parent with dementia. More people know this about me than even the names of my husband and children. It is never I topic I start but I’ve found I’ve been in so many casual conversations that some aspect of caregiving or dementia is mentioned that I quickly find a common bond that seems to be broader than personal interest, husband or child topics.

Recently, I found this bond with a woman at Church. Her experience in caring for her mother-in-law sparked a fire and she recently jumped career tracks and is now going to be working in a local community to improve their services for their residents.The experience of caring for a parent is changing many of us in positive ways.

She sent me this article and I thought it included some great general tips on how to be a better communicator. I included the list as well as added some of the things I have learned in the past year. They include:

#1: Make it a priority to engage in “time-limit-free” conversations.  I found arriving with an agenda can turn your visit sideways. It’s more important to visit in the moment. Your calm translates to their calm, your angst translates to their angst.

#2: Use shorter sentences, and don’t ask more than one question at a time. Avoid asking questions about what they just ate or did. Since short-term memory goes first, this can create some discomfort when they are unable to recall the information. My mom would come up with logical answers, but had no relationship to factual information. 

#3: Talking is overrated. I like to bring pictures and share my memory behind the photograph. My parents were never huggers or hand-holders, but as often as I can I work in a hug, a kiss or a hand-hold. One of the most memorable moments I spent with my Dad was holding his hand last September, two weeks before he died.

#4: Try alternative means of communicating. I write my Mom notes as well as spend time just sitting with her around a puzzle. Doing puzzles are a great way to connect over a shared purpose and exchange smiles and winks when we find the right piece.

#5: Make as many connections as possible, both with your words and your body language. In general, I will avoid looking at my phone or email and just will sit quietly if my Mom and I are not doing something together. My goal is to give her my undivided attention when I visit.

#6: Be calm, and remember the past. I learned early on that my Mom would mimic my emotions. I work to redirect the conversation if we are moving into a direction that gets her angry. Quickly shake it off and consider bringing up a fun memory from your past to share.

#7: Don’t take it personally. So easy to understand, but so difficult to do.

This one poem always gives me some perspective when I’m overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and sad. It’s a reminder to be kinder and gentler.

I hope some of these tips help you on your journey. Experienced.

Some additional stories related to this topic include:

Manage a Visit with Someone Who Has Dementia
I provided a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help those just getting exposed to someone with moderate dementia. Some of these take time. Trying to connect and being present is more important than executing these perfectly. 

Three Go-to Tactics for Dementia Caregivers
These have served me well over the years.


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